Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 May 2017

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10, verses 24-25.

I’m building a collection of rocks around the base of the cross we built by my pond.   At our old house, I had built a similar collection of stones from all around the world.   California, Florida, China, Uganda:   wherever I went, I picked up a rock.  They were put in a special planter built for just that purpose, but when we moved I left the rocks there.   Now, I’m building a new collection and it already has rocks from Walt Disney World, the Gulf Coast, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and places all over Texas.   I even have an old chunk of amethyst my Mom had acquired (I believe) at a rock quarry in Arkansas way back when I was a kid.

Somehow it seems neat to me to gather stones from all over the world to place them there at the foot of the cross.   That cross was almost the first project we did when we moved into this house last year.   The day after we took possession, my son, son-in-law, and I cut down a tree in our woods, fashioned it into a cross, bolted and roped it together, and then installed it in concrete.   A few months later, I wrapped it in solar lights so that it lights up at night.   When you drive by our house at night, you can see the cross, reflected off the pond.   It’s our own kind of witness to our friends and neighbors.

What does this have to do with verses 24 and 25?   To be honest, I’m not sure it has anything to do with it.  Then again..

…Then again, maybe it has everything to do with it.  My rock collection is like a collection of people, coming together to worship and make the cross of the Lord look better.  The longer we live here, the more it matters to give glory to God.  There are rocks of different shapes, different composition, different colors.   All together, they’re a mosaic.   They’re a strong base that gives the structure both foundation and beauty.

They’re like a church.   We started going to our home church, Waters Edge Frisco, in 2006, when it was still worshiping in a school.   Eleven years, several pastors, a discordant split, and hundreds of members later, I hardly recognize the place for all the new faces and new directions in which it’s moving.   That’s a good thing.   The people of God are the church, not some building or even some congregation.   We’re supposed to move in the world, yet we’re also called to come together to give glory to God.  When we do, it’s a refreshing thing to see a fresh, new mosaic of people calling that place home while others from the past have gone on to color their new homes with the purpose and freshness then once brought to ours.   That, too, is a good thing, for the body of God is alive.

We go to church to be the church, and the more I grow in faith, the more I value my time with my fellow believers.   We’re like those stones around the cross, bringing purpose, beauty, and strength to worship our God.   The more I grow in my faith, though, the more I see that the worship isn’t about our purpose, beauty or strength.   We get those things from God Himself.   They aren’t ours alone.   They aren’t even ours to give.   They’re qualities given to people to share in God’s greater mission.   All the more as we see the days of the end approaching, it’s a good thing to come together as groups and gather around the cross to simply worship He who was once nailed to it.   In doing so, we encourage each other and build each other up.

When we give glory to Jesus, He shines that glory out over us like the Sun warming the land.

It’s my hope to one day build that rock collection so big that it overtakes the cross.   I’ll have to expand around it at that point.   It’s my hope that friends, family and, better yet, strangers, will look at the collection and ask how it came to be, and what it means.   It’s my hope that, in a pile of rocks, they’ll see a unique glimpse of the Savior.

For further reading:  Titus 2:14, Acts 2:43, Hebrews 3:13, 1 Corinthians 3:13.

Lord, may I be Your rock in a wonderful collection of other stones.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 20 April 2017

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:  “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.  Hebrews 10, verses 15-18.

There is so much to unpack here.   These verses quote Jeremiah 31, and if you haven’t read the words of that lamenting prophet, next time you are in a place of need, read Jeremiah.   He, too, knew desperate soul-crushing hurt yet clung to God no matter what befell him (and he lived in terrible times).

Perhaps the best thing that Jeremiah recorded was that quote: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”   In remembering our lawless acts no more, God blots out the consequences of our sins and sees us perfectly through Jesus.   When Jeremiah was alive, men did not know of a man named Jesus; it was hundreds of years before Christ.  Instead, the time after Jesus is what Jeremiah was talking about in chapter 31, specifically the time when Jesus was no longer physically present as a man yet would always be omnipresent as Spirit.   He would live in our souls and reason with us through our intellects.

You and I are living in that time now.   When you say you believe in Jesus, you’re lining up with Jeremiah.   You’re choosing sides, and you’re acknowledging that you desire for Jesus Christ to live in your soul, reason with your mind, and work through your hands.   When you choose sides and choose Jesus, you’re acknowledging that all your wrongs have been forgiven.   Everything that you’ve ever done in sin is forgiven, washed away.   No longer do you need some stranger priest to sacrifice an animal in your stead so that you might make atonement for what you’ve done.

Most of all, you aren’t guilty any more.   You’ve been declared ‘not guilty’ and you are permanently not guilty.  Jesus took ALL of your guilt and negated the need for you to carry it around.   This is perhaps my toughest sin; it’s the one I all too frequently commit.   Years ago I laid the guilt of my sins at the cross, yet I seem to constantly walk back there every now and then and pick up the writhing, nasty sack that contains that guilt.   I throw it over my shoulder and walk away.   With each step it feels heavier, smells worse, threatens more.  All the while, it feels like Jesus is looking at me from His cross, staring down at me, imploring me to put the bag down again and walk away from it.  It’s like He’s saying to me “I’m forgiving all that.   It doesn’t define you any more.   I define you now.   You can put it down.”

Years of faith, years of study, years of therapy, years of prayer confirm this truth to me, that Jesus fully, freely declares me not guilty of even the worst things I’ve ever done.   Yet I still commit the sin of trying to carry around that guilt again and again, long after he’s forgiven it.   It lures me back, welling up feelings of remorse, inadequacy, hurt.  The harsh truth is that it is a sin to keep picking it up.   It’s a form of idolatry, and it’s like saying to Jesus “I don’t believe You really can do this.”

He forgives that sin too.   That’s the point where my head is blown.   I’m completely befuddled at how He does that, how He forgives me when I mess up the first time, then how He reminds me that He’s forgiven those later sins too.   It’s because of His sacrifice that He reminds me of how He loves me, how He’s forgiven me, how He’s written that love on my heart and in my mind.   How that divine love defines me now.

We’re living in the time when that is the norm.  It has been the norm for over two thousand years since the days when Jesus walked the earth.   These days, He still walks it, but does so through the feet of a billion believing souls.   We are living in the time Jeremiah prophesied, and before the time when Jesus will return to walk again on His own feet.  The same feet the Romans nailed to the cross…the same cross where we daily lay down our sins and work to walk away from them knowing all the work we really need has already been completed.   Somewhere in my head I hear that song from “Frozen,” trilling me to ‘let it go.’   How I wish it felt that easy.

For further reading:  Hebrews 3:7m, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10.

Lord Jesus, forgive me when I constantly relive, re-carry the guilt of all the sins You’ve forgiven.   You did it completely, fully.   Help my unbelief.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 December 2016

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Hebrews 6, verses 4-6.

Something else that needs to be said, and this is going to be harsh.

“To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”   We do it every day.   It’s why He chose the cross; it’s why, every day, He chooses it again and again when you and I, selfish bastards that we are, keep stabbing him with those Roman nails.   We do it with our sins, small and large, even the ones we don’t think amount to much.   Have you begun to realize all the effects of your God-damned sins?   Yes, I said that.   Your sins and mine:   they’re cause for God to damn us to eternal punishment.   Personally, I think that punishment starts here and now and only gets worse as we go.   God damn us for all of our sins.

Enough of the profanity.   I hope you don’t mind it too much…it’s for effect and I’m hoping that it makes you think, maybe even a little angry.  You should be righteously angry at sin; angry enough to do something about it.   Jesus did.   And yet we keep taking up that hammer and ramming those nails back into His hands and feet.

Every single time you and I fail we nail Jesus back to that cross.   He suffered mortal agony the first time around, and then He suffered spiritual agony being ripped apart from His Divine being (so as to suffer and redeem us) while still being inevitably matched to Him as well.   Then He rose three days later, making death and suffering moot forever.  And yet every minute since, whenever someone has done, said or thought anything contrary to Him, it’s like we have nailed Him back onto that cross.

Here in the first-world, we persecute those who believe in Jesus.   You’ve done it; so have I.   Huh?   You bet you have.   Ever been afraid to speak up and say you’re a believer?   Ever been ashamed of your faith because the ‘cool kids’ didn’t seem to be ashamed of themselves?   Ever felt even the slightest bit sanctimonious when you did speak up, not realizing your proud sanctimony is a disgrace to Him who loves us unselfishly?  Every single time we do things like these, even the tiniest thing, we are disgracing Jesus again.   We are joining in with the crowd along the Via Dolorosa who spit on Him, screamed at Him, hated Him.  You and I already know it’s un-cool to be a believer in Hollywood or even on social media.   That’s persecution my friend, even if it’s soft-boiled.

And REAL persecution?   You know, the kind that gets you killed for being a believer?   It’s happening in every Muslim country on the planet.   It’s happening on steroids in places controlled by ISIS and Boko Haram.   It’s still happening in communist strongholds like Cuba, and China, and North Korea.   Don’t fool yourself:   when you and I sin, we’re joining in the execution squads in Iran who torture you, then stand you up against the wall simply for saying “I believe in Jesus and not Mohammed.”

Like I said, God damn us for our sins.   He can, He will, He doesn’t want to, but He must if we don’t repent of them.   God is holy and must be holy.   Our very lives depend on it.  If He isn’t, even for an iota of a second, then this whole universe comes apart.   The places where the spiritual and physical intertwine would become explosion points of sin if there is no holy and just Lord God Almighty to bind them together.

Thank God that He is the cure for the common damnation.   The cure for damnation is Jesus.   Every time we do the difficult, mature thing and turn from our sins, it’s like witnessing Jesus rise from death again.   We’re the women at the garden tomb, clinging fast to our risen Lord.   We’re the blind man who can see again because He healed us.   We’re Peter, restored to faith after denying Him three times.   If our sins nail Him to that cross every time, then our repentance and re-acceptance of His gift of true salvation is being restored into His resurrection.   Damnation becomes simply a road we didn’t follow when we step back onto the path of following Jesus.   Then and only then do we grasp how He was ready for us all along.   The salvation wasn’t undone by our rebellion even as our rebellion renounced our acceptance of His salvation.

For further reading:   Luke 2:14, Philippians 3:12-14, Hebrews 5:12, Hebrews 9:14, John 3:25, Acts 6:6, Acts 2:24, Acts 17:24, Acts 18:21.

Lord Jesus, I praise You for all You did in saving us.   I’m truly sorry for the sins I’ve done that nailed You to the cross.   I’m truly sorry that I’ve kept on doing them.   Live in me and strengthen me to turn from my awful sins and to follow only You.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 March 2016

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. Mark 15, verses 27-32.

This past Sunday, on Palm Sunday, Fox TV broadcast “The Passion:”   a live-action Tyler Perry musical drama about the last days of Jesus.   It was told by modern actors, set in modern-day New Orleans, to the tune of modern pop music with very few lyrics modified. One scene acted out one of the verses above.   In it, Jesus has been apprehended and is being hauled away in a police wagon.   He wears an orange jumpsuit, like other common criminals, and is in the vehicle with 2 other men.   One hurls insults at Him; the other defends Him. Later in the show, a crowd is shown screaming for Jesus’ crucifixion, the release of Barabbas, and Mary’s anguish. The drama didn’t show the actual crucifixion, though it was alluded to by a group of pallbearers carrying a lighted cross through downtown New Orleans.

What struck me about the whole TV show was that it was contemporary and believable.   Yes, there was some ‘mushy theology’ involved, some misquoting of Scripture, and some things that were done out of line in how they actually appeared in the account of Holy Week.   Big freaking deal.   We shouldn’t get wrapped around the axle of details when we can consider what was being done.   I’m told that the Monday morning ratings and reviews for the show weren’t good.   They don’t matter.

Someone used their position to share the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a way that was modern, understandable, and plausible. But it begs the thought:   would we as so-called modern people do the same things that the people of Jerusalem did 2000 years ago?   Would we heap scorn and murder on the Son of God if He showed up here today?   Would we ridicule Him? Would we demand His death?   Would we nail him up with thieves and criminals?   Would we insult Him while He was dying?

Consider the brutality that is reported regularly in our news these days.   ISIS murders thousands of people – Christian and Muslim alike – in the name of their pagan religion. In Chicago, there are a dozen or more murders every weekend, sometimes every day.   Our presidential candidates are conducting their campaigns by appealing to the most base emotions and experiences of a largely uninformed voting public. Leaders in politics, entertainment and business scorn the public, relying on spin and deception to advance their various agendas while getting richer by the minute.

Would we insult the Messiah as He hung there dying?   You bet we would.

Good ratings or not, God bless Tyler Perry for what he did. Thank You Jesus.

Thank You Jesus, my Lord, for inspiring people to tell Your story, to share the precious sacrifice You made for us.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 16 March 2016

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Mark 15, verses 22-24.

Sometimes the Bible is overly dramatic. Sometimes the verses are so descriptive that it’s almost too much, almost melodramatic, like watching a Cecil B. DeMille movie.  The imagery ‘goes there,’ doesn’t leave much to the imagination.   Worldwide flood, ten plagues, talking donkey, humiliating the prophets of Baal, Philip disappearing from the eunuch, the Revelation:   name all you want, they’re sometimes a lot to swallow because, in some ways, it seems over the top.

And sometimes, as in verse 24, it’s powerfully under-played.   Consider these for words:  “and they crucified him.”   Consider those words closely because everything you know, everything on this planet, hinges on the powerful understatement they convey.

There is no salvation without the crucifixion.   You’re eternally dead in your sins, and the holy triune God of eternity doesn’t know you, can’t acknowledge you, hates your sin, and damns you forever.   There is no forgiveness, there is no happiness, there is no satisfaction, there is no love without Jesus dying on that horrible cross.   What’s more, everything you know about the world is changed.  There is no western culture without the crucifixion.   There is no church, no Protestant Reformation, no brilliant Renaissance, no Enlightenment ideals, no Declaration of Independence, no industrial revolution and western prosperity, no Western laws and traditions that support the rights of man.   Everything we know politically, economically, militarily, socially, culturally, artistically, ecclesiastically, and even physically changes, morphs into something unrecognizable, without Jesus’ death on the cross.

“And they crucified him.”   Four pretty powerful words, don’t you think?

“Oh come on, Dave.   Now you’re the one being overly dramatic!”   Really?   The crucifixion is the central event in human history; we measure culture, law and most of our activities today from it.   The events that descended from it permanently dispersed ancient Judaism, brought about the demise of the Roman Empire that crucified Him, and inspired the rise of the Western society that recognizes Him.  The systems of justice, economy and society on all seven continents are measured against the life and legacy of Jesus, culminating in His selfless sacrifice of Himself.  Everything we judge to be decent and pure, we do so because of what we know of Jesus Christ.

And in just four words, Mark describes what humanity did to its creator.   “And they crucified him,” as if is the subdued ending to a vast saga, which it was.   Those simple words are the four-word coda on the music of our soul, as if a great fugue had concluded with a still whimper, then dying notes fading into silence.

Consider the agony of being crucified, of being tortured for hours, dragged through the street in humiliation, subjected to persecution no innocent man should conceive, then having thick spikes driven repeatedly through your body. On the cross, you don’t die of blood loss, you die agonizing in asphyxiation:  you heave your body up on the spikes holding your feet to the cross, gasping just to draw a breath.  And that’s what’s up ahead.

And it changed everything.   The Romans, Jewish priests, and bystanders there at Calvary didn’t know that “and they crucified him” would soon come to mean “and it changed everything.”

It’s not a four-word coda:   it’s a symphony..

Lord Jesus, thank You for being crucified so that my soul wouldn’t be.   Thank You for doing what I can’t.   Thank You for the cross.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 March 2016

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.  Mark 15, verses 21.

How often are you made to do something you really don’t want to do?

Consider Simon from Cyrene.   He’s not native to Jerusalem; he’s visiting there.   One Friday morning, when the city is full, he is caught on a street that would come to be known as the Via Dolorosa.  Perhaps he’s minding his business; perhaps he’s there with family.   We don’t particularly know why he was there; we really don’t know much about him other than that he was from Cyrene, which is in northern Africa.   All we know is that he was Shanghai’d into helping Jesus walk to His death.

Back to here and now. If I haven’t said it before, I don’t like batting cleanup.   If you’re not a baseball fan, to bat cleanup is to be the fourth hitter in a lineup.   Three guys get on base, so the manager sends a hitter to bat who can hit them home.   In a way it’s an honor; in another way it’s a burden.

At work, I have a penchant for working in positions where, very often, my role is to finish the work done by others.   To be honest, it aggravates me.  I don’t like having to come in part way through an effort and be stuck with someone else’s choices.  Yet the irony of this is that batting cleanup is my specialty.   I’ve developed skills, abilities, and intuition that allow me to apply myself in going in and bringing order to chaos, and successful completion to endangered crisis.  This is just a niche in which I’ve carved out experience.

Do you think Simon of Cyrene probably had experience carrying crosses?   I’m betting not.   But he was forced into a situation where he had to bat cleanup.  He probably didn’t go to Jerusalem that Friday morning thinking “I’m gonna help a man die today” but that’s the way it turned out.  The Romans saw that Jesus was exhausted, that He couldn’t walk another step while carrying that heavy cross.   The cross was probably between 100 and 200 lbs, and remember that Jesus had been awake since Thursday morning and had spent the last few hours being viciously tortured.   He was in agony, made even more agonizing knowing that the pain was only beginning.   No Roman soldier would be forced to carry that cross, so they pulled Simon out of the crowd and forced him at sword-point to help the King of the Jews.

Sort of makes my complaining about work seem pretty trivial, doesn’t it.   I mean, if my cross to bear is the ability to swoop in, help someone be successful, and get paid handsomely for it, tell me where is there any cross to bear?

You know the answer.   No, as always, this isn’t a guilt trip for you.   It’s simply to help you ask yourself:   how often are you asked to do things you don’t want to do?   Then, how much of a burden are they?   Are they pulled-out-of-a-crowd-and-forced-to-carry-a-cross-for-a-convicted-innocent-felon burdensome?   Are they the burdens of Jesus?   You and I aren’t God and can’t be God, but we can change our lives to live as He asks us.   What are you prepared to do?

Lord, take my burdens.   Forgive me my shallowness and my sins, and help me to change to better live as You would ask me to.

Read Mark 15, verses 16-47.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 4 June 2015

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Mark 8, verse 34.

After writing about how terrible and hard it is to take up our cross for Jesus, I don’t want to let another point slip by unobserved. As we talked about yesterday, Jesus said something that is, by our standards, harsh. It’s tough for us to get past that. And it’s almost like He’s being contradictory, even schizophrenic, since Jesus is the same man who said “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   When we look at Jesus’ tough words about taking up our crosses through the prism of our ‘modern’ emotions, they are pretty bitter pills to swallow.

Here’s what I think of emotion: don’t let it steal your joy.   Jesus didn’t create us to focus us on emotion or on agony. Instead, He allows the agony so that it leads to joy. It’s for joy that we take up that cross:   the joy of satisfaction in living for something (and Someone) better than ourselves.   It’s for eternal joy that Jesus took up His cross; to share in this is why He exhorts us to take up our own.   Rather than getting wrapped around the axle and not getting past the torture of crucifixion, accept the joy of what Jesus is saying. He calls the crowd and they draw to Him; they draw to Him because they know He has a reputation for love and miracles. When they draw to Him, Jesus levels with them telling them that His message is radical, that it will cost them dearly to follow Him.   He’s being honest with them.   In a few verses we also find that He talks about why His cross and ours are so important. Boil them down and the reason is joy.

Think about it. Can you be happy, know real joy, while you hold onto that grudge, that anger, that chip on your shoulder? Is it possible to know joy without the giving and receiving of forgiveness?   Answering ‘yes’ to either of those questions would not be honest. When our emotions are all in upheaval, we don’t know joy.   Those sins and those emotions must be submitted to God in Jesus via the cross. The reason for the cross was to slay the sin of the world, remolding those who believe in Him to be the people of joy we were meant to be.   On the road to eternity, the way to joy travels through the cross.

There’s a song on Christian radio that says “we were made to thrive” (Casting Crowns).   Joy unspeakable, faith unshakeable, love unstoppable, anything is possible; more words from the same song.   They could easily be talking about the joy of dying in this life for Jesus.   We were indeed made to thrive.   We were indeed made for joy, for the joy of kneeling forgiven before our God and Savior King Jesus, then standing beside Him forever as both his worshipper, brother and friend. To get to that point, we must take up the joy of the suffering that is the cross.   It refines us, puts to death our old Adam, and carries us forward into becoming the people in joy who Jesus wants us to become.

Lord, bless You to bless me with Your joy.   Thank You for Your cross, and for the joyful burden of mine.

Read Mark 8, verses 34-38.